:::Waving the white flag::: Sleepless preschooler, nightmares, and change

Our 3 1/2yro son has been having a rough two weeks (if not longer). I think all the changes in the house are getting to him. Hubby’s office was moved into the den, and the office is in the process of becoming the nursery–the baseboard is getting replaced, new closet doors, painting is started, etc; plus, there’s the impending baby brother, and I’m home from work on maternity leave. He seems to be a bit out of his mind. He’s not sleeping well–he has nightmares almost every night, even twice a night, and his naps are shortened as well. Yesterday he had almost no nap at all, and today it was a mere 30min or so. He is pale and has dark circles under his eyes–he looks tired–but attempts to help him sleep better so far aren’t working.

He also has been just an emotional basket case over little things. The other night, he started having a tantrum at bedtime because he couldn’t put the books back on the shelf easily enough. This has been typical the last few days–he tries to do something, but only barely, then begins wailing “I CAN’T!” I usually calmly ask him to use words and try again; if he continues to freak, I walk calmly out of the room. I did that yesterday over a different issue, and eventually he came into the room with me and said, “I’m sorry, Mommy. Would you come play with me in my room now?” Once that tantrum was averted, he was kissed goodnight and all was quiet for about 10min. Then we hear him screaming “Mommy! Mommmmmy! Daddy!” Hubby and I tear in there to see Son is beside himself because…the pillowcase was partially off his pillow. And there are many more such incidents in recent history. The next night, he freaked at around 2am because his pillow was half behind the headboard. Thankfully today he’s more agreeable, but definitely tiiiiiiiiiiiiiired.

Last night he had an awful nightmare at around 10pm or so; screaming and sobbing in terror and difficult to console. I had taken Tylenol PM to help me sleep as I’m dealing with pregnancy-induced insomnia, so I only vaguely heard this and wonderful, wonderful hubby went in to console him. Apparently he had to pick Son up and rock him in the rocking chair and sing to him before he could put him back to bed.

He also has been waking up butt early–sometimes 5:00am–whimpering “I’m scared!” and such. Some other times he’ll go into freak out mode because of some minor frustration (can’t reach the soap to wash his hands in the bathroom, etc.). We go in and comfort him, and tell him he can play until it’s wake up time (sun comes up), and he does, usually. But this is wearing on me. 34 weeks pregnant, recovering from bronchitis, already struggling to sleep, and already a bit stressed myself about he nursery and baby coming…gah.

He seems to be feeling out of control of his environment, so everything that is related to that freaks him out. So what do we do to help him so we ALL can get some rest around here? (And good LORD what are we going to do when the ultimate change–baby brother–shows up?)

Oh man, I feel your pain! Our son, who’s now 9 years old, suffered from multiple night terrors every night from when he was 3-5 years old (I realize those are different than nightmares, but bear with me). We took him to a sleep psychologist out of desperation, who said there’s nothing at all he could do -but- to definitely try making sure our son had a rigid bedtime schedule every night. So we worked diligently to make sure that each and every night he had the same bedtime, the same bedtime ritual, etc., and before we knew it, the night terrors disappeared and he finally slept well through the night. You don’t mention whether you have a good procedure in place for your boy, but if not it couldn’t hurt to try.

He might also have high sensitivity issues… about which I know pretty much nothing. :frowning: Your pediatrician may have some ideas.

Anyway best of luck to you and your growing family!

Poor little guy. Poor Ruffian.

My nephews suffered from night terrors. I personally witnessed a few of them and they were horrible, dramatic stuff.

She and the pediatrician determined that over-stimulation was a trigger. The more tired they were, the more likely they were to have a night terror. Sounds like WeeRuffian is in a viscious cycle.

IANAD but I would try two things:

  1. Routine, routine, routine. Physical exercise in the a.m., preferably something that requires a lot of exertion and concentration, such as swimming or karate. But something that will get his heart rate up and allow him to vent some of his frustration. I’d follow this with a light lunch and down time. At 3 1/2 he’s probably ready to give up his formal nap altogether, so I’d allow him to watch t.v. or just sit and play quietly for an hour or so. Before bed time, I’d give him a warm bath and allow dad to have some bonding time with him – reading a book, etc. Kids thrive on familiarity and routine. His environment has changed, so having an established routine is critical.

  2. Give him a “magic” blanket or stuffed animal to help him feel more secure. If you’ve gotten him a big boy bed so that you can free up the crib for his new sibling, consider letting him sleep back in the crib. We ended up getting a second crib for baby #2 because my older daughter wasn’t ready to give up hers yet.

Good luck to you. And congratulations on the new one.

Thanks, ladies, good advice. The good news is, we put him to bed ridiculously early last night–around 6:45pm–as he was a little pale, puffy-eyed zombie from having nearly no nap the day before and a very short nap that day. PunditLisa, I know some kids this age don’t nap, but he still regularly–well, normally–naps about 2 hours in the afternoon, and if he doesn’t, he’s a groggy mess come evening or worse, hyperactive from being overtired. If he weren’t so obviously affected from skipping a nap, I’d think him outgrowing the afternoon nap might be the case.

Anyway, Boy was asleep by 7pm. It’s nearly 5am (freakin’ pregnancy insomnia, but that’s another thread), and he’s still out–and as far as I know, there was no crying out in the middle of the night. I was up on and off all night, so this time around, I think I would have heard him.

He does have a routine; I meant to include that in the OP but got caught up in the frustration of it all. Typically, his nighttime routine is like this (give or take 15min or so):

6pm: Dinner
6:30pm: Watch Sprout (channel specifically for preschoolers)
7:15pm: Warm bath given by Daddy; brush teeth
7:30pm: PJs on and put away toys; hop into bed. I read him a story and kiss him goodnight (sometimes he just wants me to kiss him goodnight); Daddy reads the last story and tucks him in.
7:45pm-ish: Snooze time. We turn on a lullaby CD, leave his fish lamp on, his ceiling fan on, and his door open about 8" (After saying “goodnight” and “I love you,” he says “Leave the door a little bit open please” almost every night).

This routine is especially Dad-centered there at the end, which happened when my back got so bad and I physically couldn’t, and then was reinforced during my first trimester asI was sickest in the evening. We’re not changing it, though, as once the baby is here it will be easiest for Daddy to continue tucking in Son 1.0 while I contend with Son 2.0. This way, hopefully, the nighttime/bedtime routine isn’t too changed.

PunditLisa, he’s been out of a crib for well over a year–he loves his big boy racecar bed. I need to figure out the magic blanket/stuffed animal thing and give that a try. He is not all that interested in stuffed animals, but anything will be worth a go at this point. Hmm…I have a blanket my grandmother made him before he was born that he has never seen. That might be the Magic One.

I like the exercise idea, although I’m not sure what. Swimming and karate aren’t options, but maybe there’s like a kid friendly exercise show I can find. We have a nice backyard with playground equipment, but I know that’s not quite the same thing. Something to expend energy is definitely a good idea. I’ll be brainstorming ideas all day.

Polly Glot, yikes on the night terrors! These don’t appear to be the case as he is usually easily roused from the sleep, and half the time his yelps are because OH NOES the pillow case is coming off! and that sort of thing. I cannot imagine what it was like going through that. But you did reaffirm the need for routine, so I will make sure it gets reinforced.

How about some benydrl before bed. One night of it may help him get back on track.

Routine, routine, routine.

Sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Sounds like a phase.

I must confess I have a lot less patience with my daughter about such things. For a few days she would play the potty game where it was bedtime she was in her pajamas and tucked in and she’d come out undressed with her diaper off (she throws away any diaper she takes off soiled or not) saying that she needs to potty. So for the past couple of days I’ve been starting off making sure she doesn’t need to potty. Then when I put the pajamas on, I tell her I am not going to play the pajama game, that if she gets undressed, she’s going to have to sleep undressed. She’s stopped playing the pajama game.

Your situation might be different as he is acting out to some kind of trauma. We have another little one on the way in February, but we aren’t even going to build a nursery yet. We’ll keep the office for a while, and then probably turn it into a bedroom for both of them at some point and take the smaller bedroom and make it into the office, though it’s really not as nice a work environment. She’s not freaking out about the idea of the baby and she kind of understands. Don’t know how it will be later on. I hope it doesn’t give her nightmares. But generally my daughter is kind of manipulative, so oftentimes her tantrums are game playing.

Bad idea, in my professional opinion. Don’t medicate for sleep without lots of discussion with his doc. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) has lots of effects, but inducing normal sleep is generally not one of them. Vivid dreams, hyperactivity, urinary and appetite disturbances often are.

Qadgop, Son 1.0 doesn’t like Benadryl anyway. We got some a little while ago when he was having an allergic reaction to something in his food, but he objected to the taste of the pink liquid. I know it can cause hyperactivity–it did with my sister, and her son–but it’s not like the thought hasn’t entered my mind, so it’s good to be reminded we should avoid the stuff.

This is always how Son 1.0 has reacted to change. It’s interesting; he doesn’t react during the day–it comes out in his sleep. This is how I knew something was up at his old preschool; he kept having these horrid nights and was a moody, reactive mess at home. The school was having a lot of turnover in his class–he had 4 different teachers in 6 months. Then, because numbers got screwy, they would move him randomly back and forth from different classes so the student/teacher ratio was in compliance. They did this with our son because he seems so easy going, and at school, he was–but then we’d see him come unglued at home. Our solution there was to find a new preschool about 5mos ago. He’s been very, very happy in his new school ever since.

This past summer, we remodeled a kitchen–as in, ripping out walls, ceiling, floor, everything. Being pregnant and knowing a toddler shouldn’t be around it, I took Son 1.0 to my mother’s for a few days. When we returned and he saw the kitchen torn apart (I had been telling him about it to prepare him), he sweetly but sadly asked, “Is…is my room still here?” Then for a while he’d have apeshit reactions over ridiculous little things. One morning, it started with the fact his cereal box had the Kellogg’s token cut out of it (for a Star Trek t-shirt, thankyouverymuch). He FREAKED. Then, it was that a few Rice Crispies fell out of the box. Then, it was he spilled a teeny bit of milk–then practically the entire bowl–when carrying his cereal to the table. He was an absolute basket case over little things. The kitchen has been fully functional (just needs a backsplash and a few minor adjustments before It’s Done) for a few months now, and I realized recently that Son 1.0 hadn’t been having the freakouts…until the last two weeks.

We involve Son 1.0 in the nursery remodel to try and help him adjust to the change by being a part of it. He’s helped move books as furniture was moved around; he helped move into his new dresser (he got a dresser, and his old changing table/dresser was moved into the nursery) that we made a BIG DEAL about as it was a BIG BOY dresser; he’s helped paint the baseboard; he’s helped me put away Baby’s clothes; he picks out toys for his brother; he helped me pack the Baby’s hospital bag; he comes home and critiques (“Daddy, you didn’t put more green yet”–meaning the walls weren’t done being painted). We’re keeping him in his preschool for 2 days this week so he can have that routine while chaos continues (and hopefully, resolves) in the house.

My hope is that once the nursery is done and quiet, he’ll be able to settle before The Ultimate Change takes place.


What kind of paint? Any stain? How’s the ventilation? Is he sensitive to new sheets or jammies?

We could not institute a real routine for my child when he went insane after a number of changes, so instead I got a calendar. I got a white board (around here all problems are addressed with a white board, lol) and drew a line in the middle for lunch. Then I printed a bunch of icons for various activities and stuck them to magnets (you can get them anywhere nowadays I think) and lined them up after he went to bed: Today we are going to…(clothes, toothbrush, hairbrush, wash cloth) and then we are going to…(breakfast) and then we are going to…(car) to go (shopping cart) (bank machine). After that we are going to (toys) while mommy (laundry basket) and then we have lunch (that’s the line). Then we are going to (car) to go to (school) and (play with friends). After that I will pick you up in the (car) and we will go (bed) and when you get up we will (car) to get (dad)…

That’s a fictional boring day but you get the idea. You leave it up all day so he can be reassured that it actually is happening as scheduled. If the schedule changes, change the magnets first.

One thing about the magnets which surprised me is that they give a little kid a chance to communicate where the problem is without having to talk – once Eldest got the idea of the magnets he sort of took over. We made feeling faces magnets – happy, sad, mad, scared – and he would put them next to the things he associated with that feeling. This gave me an in to talk about it. I thought this was good because Eldest has a language disorder, but then Youngest came along (who hasn’t got one) and lo and behold he used them too. My kids anyway had a lot to say at a surprisingly early age if they were not limited to spoken language. One of the discoveries we made in this way was the Eldest made up a lot of things – if he did not understand a change then he imagined the most horrific scenarios to fill in the gaps. So even now we talk, talk, talk a lot about what is/could happen and what could not.

But in general it sounds to me like that he is worried and nervous and wants some attention. I would put him in bed with me before I would give him benadryl, three is pretty young and it leads to sleep but mostly not to good sleep.

Oooh, I LIKE that whole magnet suggestion thing!!! Every day Son 1.0 asks, “What are we going to do today?” Having something visual like that would be very reassuring for him, I’m sure.

I’ll get some magnets at Target today. Did you just print clip art and glue it to the magnets?

Yes. I got them at the School Box lo these many moons ago, they had adhesive already, just peel & stick. I think Melissa & Doug still have a premade version but I liked (and still like) ours because it was custom – so I put pictures of people or what have you.

Now Mr. Sensitive is 10 and I have another child who is 8, and we still use it. Only now it’s a month calendar instead of one day at a time. And they make their own magnets. Cool part about the white board is that you can draw pictures by the magnets – when I found that eldest had drawn a large fire breathing dragon next to “school” I knew that there was a problem.

Re: the magic blankie/toy - no, no, no, NOT the one Grandma made. You need something retail that you can buy three of. Three exactly the same with two hiding clean and ready to goin your bedroom on the highest shelf. :wink:

I’d also recommend making it a small toy or stuffed animal. These are far less fraught socially than a blankie, and he’ll be able to bring it into pre-school on a tough day without being laughed at. It also must be something that can go into the washier and dryer.

Good luck, you have my deepest sympathy. Sleeplessness is definitely the hardest part of Mothering.

I really feel for you, too. We have a son exactly the same age and had a baby eleven days ago. He’s had two monster tantrums and has otherwise been sullen with us and apparently withdrew from the other kids at pre-school. What has helped us a LOT is having me spend as much time with him as possible. If I’m nursing, I’m usually doing it some place that’s accessible, so even if I can’t actively play with him, I’m there to talk to him while he plays. If I can, I’ll pick him up at pre-school and sit down with him before we go so he can show me what he’s up to. His teachers tell me that he’s really improved - he’s now playing with the other kids and, though he has his moments, he’s definitely better.

Unfortunately, we’re still the people he takes his anger out on, which means that almost everything has been a struggle lately. But, we don’t let him get away with anything (house rules still apply) and we try to involve him in decisions, such as decorating the nursery, helping us with the baby, etc.

All I can say is that it’s going to take time. It stinks, but you just have to wait it out. Don’t let your kid get away with anything, though - they’ll catch on quickly and play the sympathy/guilt card. At least with my son, what he’s mostly looking for it time and I try to give it to him as much as possible while also spending time alone with the baby. It’s exhausting and we still haven’t found a balance, but things are slowly improving as we work out a pattern with the baby.

Been away all day, but reading some of these replies reminded me (it’s been a a few years!) that we used to use a reward chart with our son, kept on the proverbial fridge. He would get a smiley face or whatever for every night that he refrained from waking us up, and after a few days he would be rewarded with a nice fat ice cream cone! If I recall correctly, we’d start bit by bit - after 3 days of smileys, a cone; then after 4 days, etc. The sleep chart seemed to work pretty well - well, that, the ice cream, and the routine, natch!

Also to add, when the little Glot was prescribed Adderall XR as a 6 year old, he had a lot of trouble falling asleep. His ped said we could give him some melatonin to help. He insisted that that would be safe even for a little child. Might be worth asking your child’s doc if he’s old enough for a trial - I bought a brand called “MidNite,” which is chewable.

Well, I bought a magnetic/white board calendar at Target today, as inspired by Marienee. It had scores of little magnetic icons designed to be used for everything from Christmas to trip to the dentist to rainy day to shopping to trip to the park. One side is a calendar template; the other is a blank white board. I bought it and am using the back (white board) side to list 6 events for the day. Son 1.0 helped me unpack it and sort the items, and was very excited (he told me repeatedly). I’m hoping tomorrow will be a good introduction to its formal use.

Polly Glot, I like the reward chart idea, too. If this keeps up, we just might be doing that as well. Here’s hoping we all sleep tonight!

Bro and SiL knew that their little boy (who was a bit younger than yours) had a big need for control; not a surprise given the ancestors he has. So one of the things they did when The Kidlette was on the way was get him involved in choices. He chose his sister’s name: from parental proposals, but ultimately it was his decision (of course, Pocoyo was out of the question; SiL was hoping she wouldn’t end up with a Dora; The Kidlette’s name is a perfectly reasonable Paula). He helped choose the pictures that would decorate the nursery’s walls, and helped his mother go over old clothes and decide which ones could be reused. I think it’s WhyNot who has explained similar strategies several times; if not, please forgive me, whomever it was!

A few days before The Kidlette was due, someone asked The Kidlet “so, you’re getting a little sister?” and he corrected: “not A little sister, MY little sister!”

Or how about tenting in the new bed? make him a cozy womblike environment. My brother had night terrors and my parents moved him from the matching room to mine [about 15x15, fireplace, lots of windows] to a small room back in what was the servants quarters that was about 8x10 and fairly cavelike. Apparently the child psychologist they spoke with recommended it [this would have been back in about 1962 or so…]

Well, this morning he woke up sobbing in fear at about 5:30am. He has a large, stuffed, strong, steel-frame toy horse that is designed to be rideable until he’s about 100lbs that he’s had since before he was born. At 5:30 this morning, it was apparently scary to him: “I don’t want my horse in my room anymore,” he said. It did look a bit like it was staring at him the way it was positioned, and in the dim light it was indeed kind of creepy. He agreed to put the horse in Baby’s room. That’s the only time he woke up, at least.

This morning, I showed him his daily activity chart. He was very impressed–it showed there is no school, then brush teeth, then Daddy works on baby’s room, and Son 1.0 will take nap. Hubby and I hope to do something fun, like go to the beach or some similar family trip, but we haven’t decided–so I showed him a blank place in the day and said “We’re doing something fun here, we just haven’t decided what.” I was relieved to see he was okay with that.

Heh, in the middle of typing this, Son asked, “What are we doing today?” “What does your chart say, little Ruff? Do you remember?” He shook his head no. We went back to the chart and went over what it said, and he was both excited and satisfied.

Nava, I’ve heard of people letting older siblings choose a name from a list of options parents like. I kind of like that, but I’m not sure hubby will be on board (as it is, he and I are still debating what names we both like). But, hubby is finishing up the nursery today (putting in the new baseboard and such) which means the decorating can begin; Son can help decide what gets hung where and otherwise participate. As it is right now, he likes being in the room and “helping” Daddy put things together.

Every day’s an adventure–let’s see where today takes us.

We get the same things around my house with our almost 4 year old daughter. This is the age that they really want to do things for themselves, and help out as much as possible around the house. She’s gotten a bit better in the last couple of months, but that’s because we have allowed her to try and do it her self. The worst is though when she says “I Can’t” even though she hasn’t really tried.

I would try and let him do some things for himself, you might need to get him a stool or something like that to turn on the water. You might also want to see if he wants to help out in the kitchen, either with making the food, or cleaning up afterwards. He might even like setting the table or some other small thing that allows him some control over his world and makes him think he is doing something.

I know where you’re coming from though, it’s hard sometimes. Now our second daughter, who’s 18 months, is starting to throw herself on the floor in tantrums. We never really had that with the oldest.